Romney recognizes Sept. 11 attacks, slips in a few digs at Obama


RENO – Setting aside much of the rivalry of the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney flew halfway across the country Tuesday to speak to members of the National Guard and pay tribute to their sacrifices since Sept. 11, 2001.

In a speech that laid out his vision for American security while going easier than usual on President Obama, Romney recalled his own experiences on Sept. 11 and spoke of the need to maintain a strong military and “keep faith with our veterans” by reforming the Veterans Administration.

“With less than two months to go before election day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent’s plans for our military and for our national security,” Romney told the 134th general conference of the National Guard Assn. of the U.S. “There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not that.”


PHOTOS: Obama, Romney commemorate 9/11

His comments were in keeping with the overall tone of the day, which has become the nation’s most solemn commemorative event, taking the place once reserved for Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. Both presidential campaigns suspended negative advertising for a day, giving Americans respite from what has become an acrimonious and sometimes ugly presidential race. It is a day of special reverence for the National Guard, which paid a heavy price in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.

Still, Romney couldn’t resist some digs at Obama, most pulled from his usual stump speech.

“We can all agree that our men and women in the field deserve a clear mission, that they deserve the resources and resolute leadership they need to complete that mission, and that they deserve a country that will provide for their needs when they come home,” he said, leaving unsaid the implication that Obama has not done that.

“Of course,” he continued, “the return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts. It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink – and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild. We can always find places to end waste. But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide.”

That was an apparent reference to the large defense cuts that will go into effect in January if Obama and Congress cannot resolve their differences over federal spending and revenue – the so-called sequestration plan that has become a major issue in the campaign.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith immediately issued a rebuttal: “The president agrees that we should avoid the automatic defense cuts in the Budget Control Act. That’s why he has called on congressional Republicans to help prevent them with a balanced plan that asks millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.”


PHOTOS: Best of the Republican, Democratic conventions

Romney began the day in Chicago, where he had attended a private fundraiser the night before. Arriving at Chicago O’Hare International Airport about 8 a.m., he just missed a somber 9/11 ceremony by Chicago firefighters assigned to protect him. About two dozen firefighters had gathered on the tarmac within about 100 yards of Romney’s plane. At 7:46 a.m. Central time, timed to the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center, they stood at attention, saluting, for a full minute. A large American flag was draped on firetrucks behind them, and the lights of the trucks were flashing.

The firefighters were still in place when Romney arrived in his motorcade. Before boarding, he strode briskly across the tarmac to shake hands with each of them.

He then took off for Reno, his only campaign appearance of the day. After his 18-minute speech to the National Guard, he flew to Florida for another fundraiser and campaign appearance.

At the National Guard gathering in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Romney was introduced as the “onetime commander of the Massachusetts National Guard” – a title he held as governor of that state.

After paying homage to the National Guard, Romney described his own experiences on Sept. 11, when he was in Washington to discuss security for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. He recalled hearing about the attacks and watching on television from an office near the White House. He then left the city, driving through Alexandria, Va., near the Pentagon, which had also been struck.


PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

“I could smell burning fuel and concrete and steel,” he said. “It was the smell of war, something I never imagined I would smell in America.”

Romney spoke at some length about the need for better services for veterans. “When the backlog for disability claims reaches nearly 1 million … when a federal building in Virginia becomes structurally unstable because so many claims have piled up on its highest floors … then we can all agree that the system is in need of serious and urgent reform,” he said.

Romney also spoke about Afghanistan, after being sharply criticized by Democrats for failing to mention it at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. (The Obama campaign even held a telephone news conference on Monday to attack Romney in advance of his Reno speech, with the Afghanistan omission mentioned prominently.)

Earlier in the campaign, Romney had criticized Obama for setting a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but has since described plans that are strikingly similar to those of the president, who has called for an American withdrawal by the end of 2014.

“Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” Romney told the Guard convention. “We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders.”


As he does regularly, Romney also paid tribute to the Navy Seals who killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, an event the Obama campaign has framed as a signature accomplishment. He often uses it to precede criticism of Obama on military spending.

It sounded somewhat different Tuesday — and drew sustained applause – as Romney spoke about how Sept. 11 is “a day in which all of us – in this convention hall, in this campaign and in this country – can hopefully agree on important things.”

Until Sept. 12.

PHOTOS: Paul Ryan’s past

Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook

Twitter: @LATlands